Two Animations of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave: One Narrated by Orson Welles, Another Made with Clay

The ever-flick­er­ing lights, the ever-present screen, the stu­pe­fied spec­ta­tors immune to a larg­er real­i­ty and in need of sud­den enlightenment—Plato’s alle­go­ry of the cave from Book VII of The Repub­lic is a mar­ket­ing department’s dream: it sums up an entire brand in a stock-sim­ple para­ble that almost any­one can fol­low, one that lends itself to com­pelling­ly brief visu­al inter­pre­ta­tions like those above and below. In the top video, Orson Welles nar­rates while the cam­era pans over some col­or­ful­ly styl­ized illus­tra­tions of the fable by artist Dick Oden. This pre­serves the didac­tic tone of the text, but it is a lit­tle dry. In con­trast, the award-win­ning three-dimen­sion­al ren­der­ings of the pris­on­ers and their non­stop nick­elodeon in the Clay­ma­tion Cave Alle­go­ry below offers dra­mat­ic close-ups of the chained prisoner’s faces and the hyp­not­ic move­ment of fire­light over the cave’s rock walls.

Plato’s “brand” is a doc­trine of ide­al­ism that posits a realm of ide­al forms, of which every­thing we know by our sens­es is but an infe­ri­or copy. The iron­i­cal­ly poet­ic Socrates relates the sto­ry to illus­trate “the effect of edu­ca­tion and the lack of it on our nature.”

And yet it does much more than this—Plato illus­trates an epis­te­mol­o­gy that sup­ports notions of the soul and immor­tal­i­ty, and hence his ideas sur­vived in the­ol­o­gy long after they was sup­pos­ed­ly van­quished by ana­lyt­ic phi­los­o­phy.

Plato’s idea of rea­son as a per­fect, unchang­ing realm of which we’re only dim­ly aware is intu­itive­ly com­pelling. Most of us are at some time con­scious of how lim­it­ed our per­cep­tions tru­ly are. But just because the alle­go­ry of the cave is fair­ly easy to com­mu­ni­cate to phi­los­o­phy 101 stu­dents doesn’t mean it’s easy to adapt to the screen like the two exam­ples above. Mark Lin­sen­may­er of The Par­tial­ly Exam­ined Life points us toward these 20 YouTube takes on Plato’s cave, “many of them,” he writes, “fright­ful­ly ama­teur­ish and some of them pre­sent­ing a warped and/or incom­pre­hen­si­ble ver­sion of the sto­ry.” I am par­tic­u­lar­ly intrigued by the silent film ver­sion below. As always, your com­ments on the sound­ness of these var­i­ous inter­pre­ta­tions are most wel­come.

Cours­es on Pla­to can be found on our list of 100 Free Phi­los­o­phy Cours­es, a sub­set of our larg­er Free Online Course col­lec­tion.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Drink­ing Par­ty, 1965 Film Adapts Plato’s Sym­po­sium to Mod­ern Times

Phi­los­o­phy Bites: Pod­cast­ing Ideas From Pla­to to Sin­gu­lar­i­ty Since 2007

Famous Philoso­phers Imag­ined as Action Fig­ures: Plun­der­ous Pla­to, Dan­ger­ous Descartes & More

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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